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September 26, 2011

Future Shock Blog

Scouting Tonight's Starters

by Kevin Goldstein

Things have become very exciting at the big league level, but in the minors, the season is over, leaving prospect guys like me to start preparing for the off-season and that means prospect lists. Still, scouting happens at the big league level too, so I checked in with some friends to get quick and dirty scouting reports on the pitchers in tonight's games that matter.

Philadelphia at Atlanta
Cliff Lee: Lee touches 93 mph with a fastball that sits in the 89-92 mph range, and his go-to pitch is a nasty 85-88 mph cut fastball. He has an above-average changeup in the low 80s and a solid-average high-70s curveball. His short arm action provides deception on his pitches but any discussion of Lee has little to do with stuff and everything to do with location. He's extremely aggressive, uses both sides of the plate and all four quadrants in the zone, with a National League scout adding, “the reason his is so good is that he can hit a gnat in the ass.” The good news for the Braves is that with the Phillies lining up for the playoffs, Lee is only expected to go around five innings.

Randall Delgado: Delgado has shown excellent poise in the big leagues, but this is obviously the biggest start of his career to date. He gets above-average life and control on a low-90s fastball that he can dial up to 95 at times, but his out pitch is a 82-85 mph changeup with excellent late fade. The key to his success is often the quality of his curveball. It can flash plus, but one scout notes, “he can get out of whack and lose his delivery, turning that breaking ball into a slurvy, distant third pitch.”

St. Louis at Houston
Jaime Garcia: Garcia lives off his sinking fastball, but scouts are quick to note that while it's still a quality pitch, it's a tick off of what they saw last year in terms of both velocity and movement. He's become more comfortable with his improved changeup, but remains inconsistent with his breaking stuff, and that's been a problem for him much of the year. “The are outings when he just doesn't have enough weapons against left-handed hitters,” said one evaluator.

Wandy Rodriguez: Rodriguez is a classic “lefty with a curveball”, and the breaker is easily his best pitch, the offering he uses to get outs after getting ahead in the count with his fastball. He makes up for a lack of velocity by varying his arm angles, and can sink or cut the pitch at any time. With so many variables to the heater, one scout suggests an aggressive approach against Rodriguez early in games, saying, “Sometimes it takes him a few innings to figure out where all of his pitches are going.”

Boston at Baltimore
Josh Beckett: If ever the Red Sox needed an ace-level performance from their No. 1 starter, tonight's the night. Beckett is a classic power right-hander who goes fastball, curveball, change, and while he doesn't have the velocity he possessed in his early 20s, the fastball still sits in the 92-94 mph range, can scratch 96, and the breaking ball is a true weapon when it's on. He does have a backup plan, as his changeup has developed from a show-me pitch into a solid-average offering over the past two years. “Having the two secondary weapons in his arsenal is always the key for him, because he's just not as overpowering as he once was,” said one scout.

Tommy Hunter: Hunter was seemingly put on this earth to eat innings, and he does so with a combination of stamina and command. His fastball doesn't impress with its velocity at 88-92 mph, but he has excellent location on the pitch and mixes his grips to provides some wiggle. He'll often start games throwing nothing but variations on his fastball, so look for some aggressive early at-bats from Boston. Later in the game Hunter will mix in a breaking ball that doesn't feature much bite, but he can throw it for strikes or bury it as a chase pitch.

New York at Tampa Bay
Hector Noesi: Noesi has four pitches, but how many of them are good varies from outing to outing, and as he's making just his second start of the year, it's difficult to scout him as a starter. His fastball sits in the low-90s and can touch 94-95 at times, but we'll have to see if that happens now that pacing is part of his game plan. He has a true plus changeup, but the success will depend on his breaking balls. He throws both a slider and a curveball, but neither is more than average, and he'll often scrap one pitch or the other in an outing. “Watch him early,” said an American League scout, “he needs one of those pitches working, and needs to figure out which it is quickly, or he'll get hit hard.”

James Shields: While all of the attention is on Shields' changeup, which is one of the best in the business as a low-80s pitch with incredible depth and fade, one scout points to his curveball as the reason for this year's breakout success. “The change is still great, but that curve has gone from average to plus,” he said. “Two plus secondary pitches makes anyone dangerous.” His average-velocity fastball plays up thanks to well above-average command and control, and he has the stuff to pitch backwards effectively, leading to plenty of awkward swings.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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<< Previous Article
Spinning Yarn: Removin... (09/24)
<< Previous Column
Future Shock Blog: Imp... (09/24)
Next Column >>
Future Shock Blog: Min... (10/05)
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Premium Article Kiss'Em Goodbye: Cleve... (09/26)

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